"Sizing" up the Black Bear
Bears are "sexually dimorphic," which means that adult males are larger than adult females. However, because young, smaller males are similar in size to adult females, it is difficult to determine the sex of a bear by their size alone.
Average weights for adult bears in Florida range from 250 to 450 pounds for males and 125 to 250 pounds for females.
Florida Size Records
- There have been two male bears that set a record for the state in excess of six hundred pounds. One was a 635 lb bear found in 1945 in Volusia County. The other was a 624 lb, eight year old male killed by a car in December 1988 in Collier County.
- The record weight for a female bear is 383 pounds, found on the side of a road in January 2007 in Liberty County.
Bears that habitually feed on human-supplied foods such as garbage and wildlife feed or pet food can become abnormally large because of the high number of calories found in these food sources.
This is not a mother and cub! They are adult bears; a male on the left and female on the right. Note the significant difference in size!
The weight of individual black bears varies greatly throughout the year.
Food availability is low during the winter months, even in Florida, and both male and female bears lose weight. Bears can lose up to 25% of their body weight while they keep to their den in winter. It is not until plants grow in the spring that bears begin to gain weight again.
During the summer breeding season, males spend most of their time searching for mates, while females spend most of their time foraging.
Watch those Ears
Most people find it hard to estimate the size of a bear that they have seen in the wild. One good method is to pay attention to the relative size of their ears.
Because the ears of black bears reach full length when they are juveniles, small, skinny yearlings appear to have very long "Mickey-mouse" ears on slender faces, while large males seem to have very small, rounded ears on wide, round heads.
Also, adult males tend to have wide, wedge shaped faces, while females' faces are more slender in appearance.
As the summer breeding season ends and the fall foraging begins, both sexes concentrate of foraging up to 18 hours a day. Normally, bears consume 5,000 calories a day, but in the fall, it jumps to 20,000 calories per day. Bears can gain up to 1-1/2 times their summer weight in the fall. The official term for this fall feeding frenzy is called "hyperphagia."
Male bears may stay active and search for food during the winter months. Typically, however, the foods they eat during the summer and fall should allow bears to survive the lean winter season.
What Does a Black Bear Eat?
Bears are called omnivores because they eat both plant and animals. A Florida black bear's diet varies, but usually consists of 80% plants, 15% insects, and 5% animal matter.
Black bears eat mainly acorns, nuts, berries, and other vegetation as well as insects. Only a small percentage of their diet is meat, which is mostly obtained from scavenging. FWC has compiled an extensive list of natural food items that Florida bears are known to eat.
The black bear diet varies seasonally and yearly depending on fluctuations in plant productivity but it is also based on geographic variation from one region of Florida to the next. For example, saw palmetto berries are a high portion of bear diets in the Osceola population, but insignificant in the Apalachicola population where the berries are not readily available. For more information on each region's population, please see our distribution map.
A bear is always looking for food, and is not very particular as to what foods they will eat. In addition, the bear can smell foods up to a mile away. A bear's search for food is the primary cause of conflicts with people. Bears are often attracted to smells of garbage, beeyards, pet foods, barbeque grills, wildlife feeders, and other temptations bring them closer to human homes, which can result in property damage and safety concerns for both people and bears.
It is important to know how to keep our Florida bears wild and away from your home. For more information, please visit Living With Bears.